Politicians and wealthy suspects running away from the arms of the law are not new in Thailand. Too many times, Thais have seen the odious twisting of the legal system where suspected culprits have managed to avoid the courtroom.
Two ex-prime ministers running away from court cases and a rich kid who killed a policeman with his Ferrari and then fled the country to wait out statutes of limitations are just a few examples.
The latest example is the case of Itthiphol Kunplome, the former culture minister and former Pattaya mayor, who fled to Cambodia over a week ago after facing a criminal charge related to a construction permit.
Mr Itthiphol issued a permit to a developer to build a 53-storey highrise, the Waterfront luxury condo along the Bali Hai Pier in September 2008 but six years later, construction stopped, and the building remains unfinished.
The Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) only asked the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to press charges against Mr Itthiphol in July this year, but the OAG pressed criminal charges against Mr Itthiphol and four others on Aug 30, the same date that he reportedly fled the country for Cambodia. He is now wanted on a court warrant.
Mr Itthiphol, 50, faces charges of malfeasance under Section 157 of the Criminal Code, which carries a prison sentence of one to 10 years.
But Mr Itthiphol might be able to return home as a free man as the statute of limitations in this case will expire this Sunday. Because the court will not work on weekends, police must bring him to hear the charge in court by today.
The question is whether the NACC does enough to bring suspects in cases like this to justice. It is noted that OAG reportedly recommended the NACC try asking the criminal court to extend the statute of limitations. NACC rules permit the extension or nullification of the statute of limitations if a suspect runs away.
That said, NACC owes the public an explanation of what it has been doing during the past 14 years. The anti-corruption body has to prove it has done what it should have in addressing this case involving Mr Itthiphol.
It is not the first time suspects have escaped justice because government bodies have been too slow. While police and public prosecutors shoulder massive workloads, there is evidence that some legal cases might be rigged, as an official NACC report this week accused high-ranking officials of watering down investigations into the hit-and-run case involving Vorayuth "Boss" Yoovidhya. Those implicated include a former national police chief, a former deputy OAG secretary-general, an engineering professor and even a senator.
Despite being demoralised, Thai society is hoping that new Justice Minister Pol Col Thawee Sodsong and Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin can mould a justice system that works effectively.
It is understandable that bread-and-butter issues and fulfilling populist pledges are government priorities, but issues of deep-seated corruption need to be dealt with too.
The new government cannot win the people's hearts as long as corruption and legal abuse in government -- especially in the justice system -- persist. The case of Mr Itthiphol and others like it show just how the legal process can be twisted and delayed.
The government must not forget that justice delayed means justice denied.